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Lectures on the History of Moral and Political Philosophy$
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Jonathan Wolff and G. A. Cohen

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780691149004

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691149004.001.0001

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Hume’s Critique of Locke on Contract

Hume’s Critique of Locke on Contract

(p.120) Chapter 4 Hume’s Critique of Locke on Contract
Lectures on the History of Moral and Political Philosophy

G. A. Cohen

, Jonathan Wolff
Princeton University Press

This chapter examines David Hume's critique of social contract theory, and particularly John Locke's claim that legitimate government gains its legitimacy from the consent of the governed. It asserts that a grave weakness of Hume's critique is that he never once addresses the argument on which Locke bases his insistence that consent is a necessary and sufficient condition of governmental legitimacy. The premise of that argument is the principle of self-ownership, or, as Locke puts it, the fact that men are born free, equal, and independent. The chapter first considers Hume's criticism of the Lockean view that authority depends on consent before discussing his six objections that are targeted specifically against the notion that legitimate government rests on tacit consent. It also analyzes Locke's distinction between natural and artificial virtues as well as his views on the obligation of obedience vs. the obligation of promise keeping.

Keywords:   social contract theory, David Hume, John Locke, legitimate government, legitimacy, consent, self-ownership, authority, virtue, obedience

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